Imagine, if you will, a Major League Baseball team with two legitimate MVP candidates hitting at the top third of its lineup. Now, imagine that same team is also one of the worst offenses in all of baseball. Ladies and gentleman, your 2017 Colorado Rockies!
Over their last 15 games the Rockies have managed to score more than three runs only four times (17 against the Braves on August 16, four the next day, eight the day after that against the Brewers, and another four this past Sunday, also against the Brewers). They are 4-11 in that stretch. But this is more than just hyperbole brought about by the team’s current malaise.
Over the course of the season the Rockies have scored 654 runs, good for second in all of baseball. But if you look only at runs scored on the road, the Rockies drop to 25th, ahead of only the lowly Tigers, Phillies, Giants, Padres, and Athletics (cue Kermit sipping The Banquet Beer). If you want to adjust for park (and you really should), you could look at wRC+. The Rockies’ 84 wRC+ puts them ahead of only the Padres and Giants in all of baseball. Even if you remove pitchers from the calculation, their 91 wRC+ represents a team well below league average.
The offense has been bad: that much has been clear from watching the Rockies recently and especially once you park adjust their numbers. But given the limits of wRC+ (while the park factors used may not properly adjust for Coors Field, it’s the best tool we have to account for what has happened on the field), perhaps it’s better if we use it to compare the Rockies to themselves instead. Just to be fair, we’ll look only at post-humidor (2002) seasons and we’ll only consider non-pitchers (more on why shortly).
Colorado Rockies Offense, 2002-2017
The pitching staff sank the 2014 team. It was one of the best offenses in team history, and they still barely escaped losing 100 games. But the other best teams in franchise history—the playoff bound 2007 and 2009 squads—were lifted by good (if not great) offenses. Compare that to this year’s offense, still three games up on a playoff spot, which is keeping company with some of the worst teams in franchise history, despite some better raw numbers.
Why is this happening? It’s so simple it’s almost profound: they have had bad hitters, and they’re giving those bad hitters a lot of at bats. We can capture this in a metric called Drag Factor, which Purple Row’s Matt Gross introduced a few years ago. In short:
The exact equation to calculate Drag Factor is as follows ...
Drag Factor = ((100 - wRC+) * Plate Appearances) / Team Total Non-Pitcher Plate appearances
1) An individual's Drag Factor can be calculated with the equation above.
2) A team's Drag Factor (which is more useful) can be calculated by adding the Drag Factors of everyone on the team together. The higher the Drag Factor goes, the more it cripples the offense.
(If you are not familiar with wRC+, here's a link that explains the metric.)
In a nutshell, we're looking for everyday players (not pitchers) who have a very low wRC+ and a very high number of plate appearances. The more extreme the combination of each of these two factors are, the higher a player's Drag Factor score is going to be.
When a roster of these scores is added up, it gives you a number that does an excellent job of quantifying how much "bad" is in a team's offense.
That’s why we only looked at non-pitcher offense above. Turning to 2017 drag factor, it should come as no surprise that Carlos Gonzalez and Trevor Story sit atop the list. In fact, if the season ended today, theirs would represent two of the four worst Drag Factors in team history (2016 Gerardo Parra had a Drag Factor of 3.75 and 2014 DJ LeMahieu had 2.95). Add those to the lackluster performances of the catching corps and the copious amount of plate appearances given to Alexi Amarista and others, and this team has a Drag Factor of 20.32; the next highest in team history is 18.75, from 2006. Last year’s squad had a 16.94 drag factor, which was the second worst in team history at the time.
Colorado Rockies Drag Factor - 2017
On one hand, the Rockies have already partially solved these problems. Jonathan Lucroy has had a 116 wRC+ since coming over from the Rangers, which has made a big difference in the catching corps. But even if the Rockies would be willing to make more changes, it’s unlikely that it would make much of a difference. While Story has been awful, he has been better recently, and his defense makes him a better overall contributor than his likely replacements. CarGo probably deserves a spot on the bench when Ian Desmond comes back, or at least to get pushed to platoon status (Gonzalez is hitting just .218/.255/.297 against left-handed pitchers). Again, that’s if Bud Black would prove that he’s willing to put the best players, not just the most senior players, into the lineup.
The 2017 Rockies have stayed afloat thanks to superb pitching, the consistent contributions Blackmon and Arenado, and the periodic help of Parra and Mark Reynolds. Unfortunately, most of the rest of the offense has been a boat anchor dragging the team down, especially in the second half. If things don’t change soon, that offense might drag the Rockies right out of the playoff race.